You've bought your plane tickets and booked your stay in Italy (maybe even at our apartment in Tuscany!). Here are some things you should know before you go, and a few to-dos to get you ready to make the most of your trip.
You will need to use an adapter every time you plug something in while you are in Europe. My favorite is a universal adapter that includes plugs for all the countries. I keep it in my carry-on and use it to charge my phone in the airport before take-off, in the airport during layovers (often in the UK- which takes a different adapter than Italy) and then of course during my stay in Italy. I suggest one for every traveler, to make your life easier.
We have this one and love it --> Universal Travel Adapter - on Amazon for $12.99
Cars: Everything you need to know about cars + driving
International Drivers License
Required to drive in Europe, and super easy to get! If you have AAA, go to any AAA office, pay $20 for the license and $13 for passport photos for the license, and within 20 minutes you will be on your way with license in hand. Your rental car company will require your US State drivers license, your international drivers license, and a credit card in the name of the person who booked the reservation (this needs to be the person who will also be the driver). This is very important and something we didn't know the first time we went!
Find more information on getting an International drivers license from AAA here
Rental Cars: Our experience with Enterprise Rentals
If you are visiting Tuscany, you really need a rental car to explore all of the beautiful hilltop towns, as trains do not access most of Tuscany, and the bus system is not reliable. Driving in Tuscany is easy! We DO NOT recommend driving in the large cities (Florence and Rome). Take a train and enjoy your day the easy way! But for visiting Tuscany, driving is just like driving in the countryside of the US. The highway is simple to navigate and the country roads are beautiful, well marked, and generally well maintained. Drivers in the large city are crazy, but in the countryside, driving is a beautiful way to spend the day.
We have had excellent luck with Enterprise Rentals- both in Rome and in Florence. I highly recommend them. Their cars are well maintained, the price quoted online was the price we paid, and picking up/returning the car was simple and painless. Check out Enterprise here.
Tip #1: TRANSMISSION When searching for a car online, the website will automatically populate automatic transmission. If you can drive a stick, you will save up to 75%! The manual transmissions in Italy are smooth and easy to drive. We always go this route to save some money, but my parents always pay for an automatic so they don't have to deal with shifting on sometimes steep, narrow, and windy roads up and down to/from the hilltop villages.
TIP #2: SIZE OF CAR. All cars in Italy are small. It isn't really worth it to splurge on upgrading to a larger car, because it will still be much smaller than what you are used to in the states. We have always gone economy and it was fine for seating two adults in the front, and two kids in the back. For four adults, I would go compact or wagon (wagon is not shown in this photo, but it is a very popular option in the EU).
TIP #3: CHAINS If you rent a car in Tuscany between Oct- April, they will require that you rent chains. Don't worry! The Italians get freaked out by snow just like Californian's get freaked out by snow. Just like in Nevada County (Grass Valley area) when it snows even a half an inch, everything shuts down and people lose their minds. Snow is very uncommon. But they still require that you rent chains. So just go with it, you have no choice :)
The rental car company will ask if you want to pay $100 to return the car without a full tank. This is totally up to you. There is a gas station right when you enter the Rome Fiumunco airport. You can stop there and fill it up when you go to return the car. My parents always pay the $100 so they don't have to be bothered. We never do because we are trying to save money where we can.
Gas is expensive in all of the EU. It costs about 60 euros to fill the tank. But it lasts a while (small cars with good gas mileage).
To fill up, sometimes you can pay at the pump. Sometimes you have to go inside and pay after you pump. Sometimes there is a person who will pump for you and you pay them. Sometimes there is a person who will pump for you but then you go inside to pay. Be flexible, it is always different. But, hey, it is Italy!
Most parking lots are paid parking. In our village of Chiusi, there are two free parking lots, both safe to park in overnight, and both within a two minute walk to our apartment in the center of the village.
When visiting other hilltop towns, the smaller towns will have paid parking lots all around the outside walls of the town. Choose a lot, pay at the parking kiosk, put the paid slip in your windshield, and go explore.
BLUE lines= pay to park
Restricted driving zones (ZTL)!
NEVER DRIVE INTO THE HISTORIC CENTER OF TOWNS!!!! ALWAYS PARK OUTSIDE THE WALLS OF THE TOWN. Almost all towns have a ZTL - the area in the center of town that you can ONLY DRIVE IN IF YOU HAVE A SPECIAL PERMIT. You wont have this permit, so don't ever drive in the center of town. If you do, you will receive a costly ticket in the mail when you return from your trip. Read more about the ZTL here - including maps of the ZTL in the major cities.
Toll Booths on the highway - read before you go!
Read this excellent article on how to use the toll roads in Italy. And don't ignore the part about how good the panino (sandwiches) are in the autogrill (food stop)- they are DELCIOUS!!!
Communicating: Phones + Internet
What's App - get this app!
Europeans love the app called "WHat's App." Use it for texting and phone calls to avoid international fees. It works via wifi (or any internet connection) to send/receive texts + phone calls for free.
Use What's App to text Maria to discuss when you will be arriving to our apartment, so she can meet you and give you the key. It is quick and easy and can be used almost anywhere in the world.
Download the "WhatsApp" app here
International calling/texting and using the internet on your phone
If you have AT&T as your cell phone provider, give them a call and ask about the International plan add-on to your account. On our plan, we have the option of adding this service. It mirrors the exact service you have in the States. To activate it, you simply turn on your internet (which should otherwise always be turned off, to avoid costly roaming charges), and you will be charged $10 per 24 hours that your internet is turned on. Find out more about the At&T International Day Pass here.
We used this great feature on the days when we were driving around exploring Tuscany. This way, we could use the maps on our phone. We could never get the GPS device that we rented with the rental car to work correctly, so we gave up, paid the $10 a day, and used our phones- which worked great!
Wifi in our apartment
We have wifi in our apartment. Maria will show you the password.
Trains: Use them to get into the big cities
Trains are an easy, quick, and inexpensive way to get around Italy. Although they don't go into the smaller towns, they are THE WAY to get into the big cities.
In both Florence and Venice, the train station is right in the heart of the historic center. You just can't get any closer into the heart of these beautiful cities any other way.
In Rome, the train station is about a mile from the Colosseum. It is a fairly easy walk, but you can also hop on the metro (from the train station) and exit directly in front of the Colosseum. Read this excellent article all about using the metro in Rome.
You don't have to buy train tickets far in advance! For short trips like Chiusi to Florence, we usually buy our train tickets the night before we want to travel so that our plans can remain flexible. For longer trips with reserved seats, like from Florence to Venice, we purchase them in advance before we leave for Italy, so we don't have to worry about getting a spot on the train.
Taking the train from Chiusi to Florence
The average journey time between Chiusi-Chianciano Terme and Florence is 1 hour and 39 minutes and the fastest journey time is 1 hour and 16 minutes. On an average weekday, there are 24 trains per day travelling from Chiusi-Chianciano Terme to Florence.
Check the schedule, buy tickets, and find out more about the train from Chiusi to Florence here
Taking the train from Chiusi to Rome
The average journey time between Chiusi-Chianciano Terme and Rome is 1 hour and 40 minutes and the fastest journey time is 1 hour and 16 minutes. On an average weekday, there are 18 trains per day travelling from Chiusi-Chianciano Terme to Rome.
Check the schedule, buy tickets, and find out more about the train from Chiusi to Rome here
Missed your train? Don't worry!
If you ever miss your train, you can get on the next one without buying a ticket! It just has to be within a four hour window from your ticket time.
Regional trains have no seat reservations, and an online ticket can be used on the booked train or a similar train in the following 4 hours. Tickets bought in Italy are for a specified day and can be used on any train that day. Before you get on the train, these tickets must be time-stamped in a machine at the station and are then valid for 4 hours.
Parking at the Chiusi train station
Don't park at the main lot at the train station as you can only park up to 4 hours there. Follow signs to Po Bandino and Citta delle Pieve, cross the flyover above the train tracks and then as you come down on the otherside take the next sharp right. This will take you to the free long stay parking. There is an pedestrian underpass from this car park under the tracks and back to the station. Here are the GPS coordinates to the parking lot: 43°00'11.6"N 11°57'37.5"E